Working Paper

Investigating the Sensitivity of Household Food Security to Agriculture-Related Shocks and the Implications of Informal Social Capital and Natural Resource Capital

Dec 23, 2014 | Byela Tibesigwa, Martine Visser, Wayne Twine, Mark Collinson

This was created in partnership with Environment for Development .


Resource-poor rural South Africa is characterised by high human densities due to the historic settlement patterns imposed by apartheid, high levels of poverty, under-developed markets and substantially high food insecurity. This chronic food insecurity, combined with climate and weather variability, has led to the adoption of less-conventional adaptation methods in resource-poor rural settings. This paper examines the impact of agriculture-related shocks on the consumption patterns of rural households. In our assessment, we are particularly interested in the interplay among social capital (both formal and informal), natural resource capital and agriculture-related shocks. We use three years of data from a relatively new and unique panel of households from rural Mpumalanga Province, South Africa, who rely on small-scale homestead farming. Overall, we make two key observations. First, the agriculture-related shocks (i.e., crop failure from poor rainfall and hailstorms) reduce households’ food availability and thus consumption. Second, natural resource capital (e.g., bushmeat, edible wild fruits, vegetables and insects) and informal social capital (ability to ask for food assistance from neighbours, friends and relatives) somewhat counteracts this reduction and sustains households’ dietary requirements. In general, our findings suggest the promotion of informal social capital and natural resource capital as they are easier, cheaper and more accessible coping strategies, in comparison to other more technical and capital-intensive strategies such as insurance, which remain unaffordable in most rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa. However, a lingering concern centers on the sustainability of these less conventional adaptation strategies.